4 top tips to make your retirement savings last

When it comes to saving for when you retire, at the very least you want to ensure that you’re going to have enough to pay for your living costs for the rest of your life. However, what you probably want to be aiming for is a nest egg which allows you to truly enjoy your life after work and do all the things you’ve planned for as you’ve saved. Some pensioners find themselves in a position where they have to compromise on what they can do during their retirement simply because of a lack of funds. So here are our top tips for retirees to help avoid finding yourself in that position.

  1. Commit more time to saving money – Once you retire, you’ll have a great deal more time available to you, meaning you should find it easier to spend time doing things that will help your money go further. One way of doing this is through a part-time job; but if you’re not keen on going back to work once you’ve retired, take time to collect coupons and hunt down special offers which you might not have had the time to do when you were working. This will help your monthly income go further.
  2. Consider your risk/balance – Most pensioners opt for low-risk investments as they depend on their pension and are not in a position to recover should the risk fail to pay off. However, taking calculated risks could help yield greater returns without opening yourself up to financial jeopardy. Deciding how much of your portfolio you’d be happy to put in higher-risk investments will be an individual decision, but is an option to consider as it can be a successful way to add to your pension at the same time as drawing down from it.
  3. Make sure you’re not paying too much in tax – Whilst you’ll never be in a position to pay no tax at all, your tax commitments are likely to change once you retire, so ensure you’re only paying the taxman exactly what you need to. Returning to the first point above, you’ll have plenty of time to investigate exactly what you should be paying in tax, so do some research and see what you can save.
  4. Come up with a budget and stick to it – If you’ve budgeted during your working life, this shouldn’t change when you retire, and if you’ve not managed to budget before then it’s never too late to start. Knowing exactly what you have coming in and going out each month means you’ll also know precisely how much money you can spend on enjoying yourself without worry or guilt about doing so.

Planning ahead for Christmas…

We may only be in November but the ever-expanding festive fare already available in every high street shop and supermarket provides a daily reminder that Christmas is just around the corner. Whilst it might still feel too soon for you to begin thinking about your arrangements for the Yuletide season, there are definite benefits to getting your Christmas plans in order nice and early. Here are our top tips to help you get your festive finances in order before you open your first advent calendar window.

  1. Make the big financial decisions as early as possible – Whilst there are always a lot of money choices to make around Christmas, you don’t want to make them all once you’re fully caught up in the festive spirit. Once the tree has been decorated and the carols are being sung, you’re likely to make decisions emotionally rather than rationally, which can easily lead to you overspending without fully considering the consequences.
  2. Agree a budget with friends and family well in advance – Coming up with a set amount you and your loved ones will spend on presents for each other is a good way to avoid overspending, but it can cause embarrassment if not everyone sticks to the arrangement. Agreeing your budget early helps to ensure nobody starts their Christmas shopping before knowing the spending limit.
  3. Hide your credit cards – It can be all too tempting to put more and more Christmas costs onto a credit card, racking up unnecessary debt that will leave you strapped for funds long into the new year. Take your credit cards out of your wallet now and put them well away to avoid the temptation to spend beyond your limits over Christmas. If you shop online, remove your credit card details from your shopping accounts too – you can always add them back on if necessary in January.
  4. Make the most of your freezer – Christmas food can be pricey, a fact made even more frustrating when you realise a lot of it is simply the same stuff you can buy all year round wrapped in snowflake-adorned packaging. Stocking up early on the food you’ll need over the festive period makes sure you don’t have to spend more than necessary, as well as preventing you from having to make multiple trips to the supermarket in the busy days leading up to 25th December.


4 steps to stop inflation eating your savings

According to the Consumer Price Index, inflation is currently at 3%. This is the highest rate for over five years, meaning household budgets are being stretched further and further as the average pay is going up by just 2.2%. As the Bank of England has just announced the first base rate rise in over a decade, the pressure is likely to be on even more as mortgage costs will go up for many people as a result. So, here are our top tips to help you ease the impact of inflation upon your income.

  1. Make the most of a savings account – Easy access accounts pay just 0.42% interest on average, seven times less than the current rate of inflation. However, there are a number of accounts available which do beat inflation. For example, Nationwide’s current account pays 5% for a year on a balance of £2,500. Shopping around to make sure you’re receiving the best growth on your money is worthwhile, and could go some way to helping you beat the inflation squeeze.
  2. Don’t be afraid to switch your mortgage – If you’re on a variable rate mortgage, you’re going to end up paying more per month following the interest rate increase. But don’t feel that you have to stick with a rate that’s going to end up eating away at your finances, however. A standard variable rate mortgage of £150,000 on the average rate of 4.5% with 20 years remaining could switch to a lower fixed rate such as Monmouthshire Building Society’s five-year fixed rate mortgage at 1.7%, which would result in a monthly saving of £211.
  3. Make the most of balance transfer credit cards – If you’ve racked up debt on credit cards after struggling to make your monthly income cover your bills, the interest you’ll be paying on the balance will simply end up making things worse before long. However, there are plenty of credit cards available which offer 0% on balance transfers, some for as long as four years, helping you to take control of your credit card debt.
  4. Keep an eye on when your fixed rate energy deal will end – Once a fixed rate deal ends, your gas and electricity providers will usually move you onto a standard variable tariff, meaning your energy bills will most likely increase significantly. Make sure you switch to a new fixed rate deal before this happens to ensure you’re on the best rate available.

October Market Commentary

Well, we’re still here. Despite the seemingly best efforts of the leaders of the United States and North Korea – the world is still turning. But September was a month of ‘another day, another North Korean rocket flying over Japan’ and it ended with Kim Jong-un threatening to explode a nuclear bomb over the Pacific. Small wonder that South Korea is creating a special military unit with only one aim, which does not bode well for Kim.

Meanwhile, central bankers have warned that, well… they seem to have lost $13tn. The Bank for International Settlements has warned that this amount may be missing from global balance sheets because, apparently, international standards do not require such a trifling sum to be included. The authors of the report say that the debt ‘remains obscured from view’ – which rather makes $13tn sound like your TV remote.

Throw in the devastating effects of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose and September was a month where it was difficult to find any good news. At least with it being Party conference season, there was hope of some positive policies: although it could be said the Prime Minister was clinging to a life raft with the sharks circling, as she made her major speech.

September saw the Labour Party getting together in Brighton, which could either be viewed as a triumph for Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘government in waiting’ as they outlined a clear vision for a stronger, fairer Britain or a party that would bankrupt the country within three months of taking office, depending on your view.

The Conservatives were in Manchester, as Theresa May sought to re-assert her authority following the disastrous General Election campaign. Having spent virtually all the election campaign deriding Labour’s ‘magic money tree’ Theresa May seems to have, well, magically found one at the bottom of her garden. Student loans, Help to Buy, lifting the public sector pay cap, £1bn to keep the Democratic Unionists onside… Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget – now scheduled for 22nd November – is certainly going to be interesting.

Away from the Westminster plans and plots, the month started well as figures for August showed that UK manufacturing had hit a four month high, and later in the month it was reported that it had moved up one place in the ‘league table’ to become the 8th largest in the world. Unfortunately, the service sector couldn’t match this progress as the August figures recorded the slowest growth for 11 months.

Nevertheless, UK unemployment continues to fall – it is now down to 4.3%, down from 4.4% in the previous quarter and the lowest level since 1975. However, wages continue to stagnate, and with inflation hitting 2.9% many people are still seeing a fall in real wages.

What of interest rates? The month started with a suggestion from the Bank of England that there would be no rises for ‘at least a year:’ however by the end of the month Governor Mark Carney was expecting a rate rise “in the near term” – which could apparently be as early as November.

…And there was more gloom to end the month as credit ratings agency, Moody’s, downgraded the UK’s credit rating from Aa1 to Aa2, following earlier downgrades by the other major agencies. UK growth for the second quarter of the year was also revised down to 1.5% from an earlier 1.7%.

How did all this translate to the stock market? The FTSE 100 index of leading shares was down just 1% in September, opening the month at 7,431 and closing at 7,373.

News for the Brexit part of the commentary this month wasn’t hard to come by. ‘Michel Barnier vows to ‘educate’ UK over consequences of leaving’: ‘May has accepted a £50bn exit bill’: ‘Europe to block Brexit trade talks until December’: ‘May goes to Canada to seek trade deal’… And so it goes on: but as in previous months, the end result seems to be very little progress, despite Theresa May’s speech in Florence.

It was thought that progress might well speed up after the German elections but as you will read below, these have been anything but decisive, and Angela Merkel will have plenty of domestic issues to consider before she thinks about Brexit.

In the same way that the Labour Party are now apparently ‘war-gaming’ a run on the pound should they come to power, so the Government are supposedly doing the same with the prospect of ‘no deal’ by March 2019. It is looking increasingly likely…

The big news in Europe was the German elections, held on the last Sunday in September. They were largely seen as rubber-stamping another four years as Chancellor for Angela Merkel: four more years with ‘Mutti’ leading Germany and – by extension – Europe.

In the event, the Christian Democrat vote was down nearly 10% to 32.9%: the Social Democrats recorded their worst result since the war, with just 20.5% of the vote, and in third – with 12.9% of the vote – was the right-wing anti-immigration party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD).

Where did that leave Merkel? Substantially weaker: the Social Democrats have gone into opposition to lick their wounds, and Merkel is likely to be left with what is scathingly referred to as ‘the Jamaica Coalition.’ Based on the colours of the respective parties, this is a coalition between the Christian Democrats, the Free Democrats (roughly equivalent to the Liberals in the UK) and the Green Party.

Will it work? There could be months of wrangling, with Greens leader Katrin Goring-Eckardt saying in a TV debate, “Naturally there’s a lot that divides us. I’m not sure that we will succeed.” Does this leave a vacancy for a new de facto leader of Europe? French President Emmanuel Macron certainly seems to think so…

Despite this uncertainty, there was good news as the ECB predicted the fastest Eurozone growth since 2007, forecasting economic growth of 2.2% for this year. It’s unlikely this figure will be repeated at Ryanair as the company pulled off one of the biggest PR disasters of recent times, cancelling any number of flights thanks to not organising their pilots’ holidays properly. The bill won’t reach the $30bn that the emissions scandal has supposedly cost Volkswagen but you suspect that the company will take a long, long time to recover.

At least, there were no shades of Ryanair for Europe’s leading stock markets: the German DAX index closed September up 6% at 12,829 and the French market jogged happily along in its wake, rising 5% to finish at 5,330.

The damage done to the Caribbean and the southern states in the US by the recent hurricane season has been well-documented. One estimate now puts the repair bill in Texas at $180bn following Hurricane Harvey.

It seems heartless to turn from that to Facebook’s cash mountain – but I am duty bound to report that the company’s revenues and profits soared in the second quarter, with more than 2bn people now logging into the site each month. The firm’s revenues hit $9.3bn for the April to June period, up 45% year-on-year, as profits for the quarter rose to $3.9bn.

It was mixed news for Apple, as they suffered a ‘major data breach’ ahead of the launch of the iPhone X, but then unveiled a phone that was seen as a major leap forward and ‘the future of the mobile phone.’ Or in many cases, the future of parents asking their children for help…

Worryingly, Toys-R-Us filed for bankruptcy protection: with an increasing number of malls threatened with closure over the next five years, you have to ask if this is a straw in the wind – and whether Amazon and other online retailers will now do to out of town shopping what they have done to so many high streets in the US and the UK.

The Dow Jones Index chose to side with Facebook rather than Toys-R-Us, and it rose 2% in September to end the month at 22,405.

Far East
There were two significant events in the Far East in September. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap general election, looking to take advantage of opposition disarray and seeking support for his hard line against North Korea. Abe said the election would be a judgement on his spending plans and his handling of the Korean crisis. The election is due to be held on 22nd October and at the moment Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party have a comfortable lead in the polls. Then again we have seen other leaders with healthy poll leads call snap general elections…

We have written previously in this commentary about China’s mounting debt and credit problems, and in September credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, cut China’s rating by one point from AA- to A+. This was down to worries about the build-up of debt in the country and puts China on the same level as Ireland and Chile.

The downgrade comes just a month before the Communist Party Congress, which is held only twice every decade and sets economic policy for the next five years: at the moment the Chinese Government has a target of 6.5% growth for this year.

Other than that, the rulers in Beijing were in the mood for banning things: bike sharing apps have now been banned in Beijing thanks to traffic chaos and safety concerns, and the government is also planning a ban on both petrol and diesel cars ‘in the near future’ as China looks to curb pollution and boost its electric cars industry.

Boosted by the likely return to power of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese market led the way in the Far East, rising 4% in the month to 20,356. The South Korean market was also up, albeit by only 1% to 2,394, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index was virtually unchanged at 3,349. The Hong Kong market fell back by 1% to end the month at 27,554.

Emerging Markets
One of the interesting things about writing this commentary is how a story which seemed crucial at the beginning of the month has been almost completely forgotten about by the end of the month. So it was in Emerging Markets, as September started with the BRICS summit – a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Chinese leader Xi Jinping told the delegates that an ‘open world economy’ was needed, with ever-increasing trade liberalisation. He told delegates that, “The development of emerging markets and developing countries won’t touch anyone’s cheese, but instead will diligently grow the world economic pie.” With China committed to massive investment in Pakistan you suspect that China and India may be squabbling over rather more important matters than pie and cheese in the long term…

Away from the kitchen and on the stock markets it was a good month for the Brazilian market, which was up another 5% to 74,294. The Russian index also did well as it attempts to regain some of the ground lost earlier in the year: it was up 3% in September to finish at 2,077. Not such a good month for the Indian market though, which closed down 1% at 31,284.

After an excellent year for the ‘And finally’ section of this report, September was a disappointing month. No-one accidentally locked himself in a cash machine, no Chinese toilets demanded facial recognition before they’d dispense loo roll and – only just back from holiday – there was no need for the new leader of Europe to spend thousands on make-up.

But there was an encouraging story from the world of technology, where the winner of the UK’s James Dyson Prize for Innovation was engineering graduate Ryan Yasin and his concept of ‘clothes that grow with your children.’ This is fantastic news for hard-pressed parents – and not just parents of toddlers. September is the month when many teenagers start university: they face the harsh reality of student loans and their parents face the equally harsh reality of ‘kitting them out’ with pots and pans and possibly even a textbook or two.

But at least new clothes won’t be an issue if Mr Yasin’s prototype clothes go into production. Freshers’ Week should be something to behold as everyone wanders round in their Thomas the Tank Engine tops and Mr Tickle trousers…

Your options at retirement

When you reach your retirement age, it’s normal to start thinking about just what you’ll do with the money you’ve saved during your working life. It’s likely that you’ll have saved the bulk of your money in a pension. You may even have multiple pensions; some small and some large.

Too late to start saving?

Not beginning to save towards your retirement until you reach your fifties would not so long ago have been considered leaving matters far too late to put anything meaningful away for your life after work. Previous generations saw building a pension as something to do over an entire career, with contributions throughout your working life coupled with investment growth being the only way to ensure your retirement pot was substantial enough to provide for you throughout your retirement.

However, whilst compound interest still means that anything put away at the start of your career will see some serious growth by the time you need it much later in your life, the reality today for many young people is that they simply have very little to invest when they first begin work. Many may find that they won’t be able to begin saving seriously until they reach middle age.

The reasons for this are several. First of all, your wages are statistically likely to reach their peak for women during their forties and for men in their fifties. Secondly, as the average mortgage term is twenty-five years, most people who bought their home in their twenties are likely to have finished paying it off by the time they reach their fifties. A third key reason is the declining cost of raising children. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll stop giving them financial support completely, if you’ve had kids in your twenties or thirties it’s probable that the cost of providing for them will have gone down a great deal by the time you’re heading towards 50.

With considerable tax relief on both ISA investments and pensions, it’s now possible to build a healthy retirement fund even if you only start saving in your fifties. For example, someone with no existing savings, earning £70,000 annually, who started saving the maximum permitted yearly amount of £40,000 at age 50 could amass a pension pot of £985,800 by the time they turn 67, assuming a 4% annual return after charges.

£40,000 a year might sound like a huge amount to save every year, but this amount includes the generous tax relief enjoyed by pension savings. Our £70,000 earner would only need to put away £27,000 of their own money in order to reach the £40,000 contribution, whilst a basic rate taxpayer would need to contribute £32,000 to achieve the same.

So, whilst it’s sensible to begin saving as early as you can, it is possible to begin putting money away when you reach middle age and ensure you have enough to provide for yourself later in life. The last ten years of your working life can reasonably be seen as some of the most important in terms of preparing for your retirement.

3 financial fears this Halloween and how to overcome them

With Halloween only a few weeks away, it’s time to be prepared for scary movies on TV, ghosts and ghouls trick-or-treating at your door and listening extra carefully for things that go bump in the night. But whilst these fears might be unfounded, it might be a good time to think about what frightens you in your finances and, more importantly, how to overcome those concerns. Keep reading for our top financial fears and what you can do to banish them this October.

  1. Losing big on your investments – It’s all too easy to think that investing your money in stocks and shares or even in a savings account is a huge risk, thanks to the media reporting the times when people have indeed lost huge sums. But it’s important to remember that the people who make sensible investments and successfully grow their money are unlikely to be covered in the news. Big losses happen in the short term to those trying to make money fast. Just remember that buying and holding long term means your money is more likely to remain safe and work for you over time.
  2. Having a poor credit score – Whilst having a good credit score is important, unless you’re planning to apply for credit or make a significant purchase then it’s not something you should be losing sleep over. Even then, if your score isn’t as high as you want or need it to be, there are ways to improve it that don’t take too long. The important thing to remember is that credit scores change all the time, so constantly worrying about yours simply isn’t worthwhile.
  3. Becoming overwhelmed by debt – If you’ve managed to get yourself into debt through loans, credit cards or a sizeable mortgage, working your way to being debt-free again can feel like an impossible task. But there are always actions you can take to help yourself cope with debt. Speak to your lenders to see if you can negotiate more manageable payments. Work out how much you’d need to pay each month to clear your debt in an achievable amount of time, such as five years. Finally, make sure you don’t take on further debt, otherwise you’ll simply be undermining all of your efforts.

September Market Commentary

It is hard to start this commentary anywhere other than North Korea – or maybe crouching in Japan as a North Korean missile passes overhead. At the beginning of the month, Kim Jong-un threatened to bomb Guam, the US territory in the Western Pacific, and by the end of the month air raid sirens were sounding in Japan’s Hokkaido Island. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described North Korea firing the missile as an “unprecedented” threat to his country. Wall Street’s ‘fear index’ unsurprisingly jumped during the month as President Trump intimated that talking to Kim Jong-un wasn’t his first option.

Donald Trump’s month had begun by imposing new trade sanctions on Russia – described as a “full scale trade war” by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and it ended with him visiting Houston after it had been hit by Hurricane Harvey, with estimates putting the cost of the clean-up operation at $100bn.

These worries were nothing though, compared to the trials and tribulations of new French leader Emmanuel Macron – barely three months after being elected, he was facing widespread criticism for his planned labour reforms and… his make-up bill. More of that later…

The month didn’t get off to the best of starts in the UK. The Financial Conduct Authority voiced its concerns about the increasing levels of unsecured consumer debt, especially on car loans, and figures for July showed that car sales had slumped by 9.3% – a figure which will presumably worsen if there is a clampdown on loans.

Meanwhile, the construction sector slowed to its weakest rate of expansion since August of last year and the pound fell as the Bank of England opted to keep interest rates on hold. By the end of the month, it was trading at $1.2923, down 2% for the month as a whole.

While our glass is half-empty, house prices were down for the fourth quarter in a row – the first time that has happened since November 2012 – and figures for June showed that the UK trade gap had widened. The difference between the goods and services we import and those we export widened by £2bn to £4.6bn according to figures from the Office for National Statistics – the biggest gap since September last year.

…And let us now look at the glass from a different perspective. Despite the construction sector slowing down, it was still taking on new people and this – combined with an increase in transport jobs – saw UK unemployment down by 64,000 to 1.49m for the three months to May – the lowest level for 42 years.

There was also good news for the beleaguered UK high street as UK retail growth continued, helped by stronger spending on food. The figures for July showed a 0.3% increase on June’s figures. Clearly plenty of the food was being bought at Lidl, which overtook Waitrose to become the UK’s 7th largest supermarket group.

The government had its first budget surplus in July for 15 years as more money came in from self-employed tax receipts. Maybe Chancellor Philip Hammond ordered a fleet of Aston Martins for his cabinet colleagues – the company increased its profit forecasts for the second time this year after a record six months. And UK car production was up as a whole, despite the falling sales numbers: 136,000 vehicles were made in British factories in July – up 8% on July 2016.

So how did the stock market view the glass? Half-full or half-empty? The former – but only just. The FTSE 100 index of leading shares was up 1% in August, closing the month at 7,431.

We have just had another month of Brexit negotiations. Or have we? David Davis – our man in charge of exiting the EU – has claimed that ‘good progress has been made.’ His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, has taken a rather different tack saying that the UK was “demanding the impossible.”

Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said that none of the UK’s position papers were “satisfactory” and warned that there would be no discussions of a free trade deal until progress was made on the so-called Brexit bill, the border with Ireland and the rights of EU citizens. David Davis responded that the EU needed to show ‘imagination and flexibility’ – two words which have not previously been associated with the Commission.

Back in the UK, the war of words continued: a group of pro-Brexit economists argued that removing all trade tariffs and barriers would generate an annual £135bn boost to the UK economy. Those in favour of a ‘soft’ Brexit continued to push for membership of the single market as a transitional arrangement after Brexit, which (in case you have forgotten in all the excitement) is scheduled for March 29th 2019.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister, Theresa May, declared that she wanted to fight the next election (a move greeted with equal measures of scepticism and horror within the Conservative party) and jetted off to Japan to begin talks on a post-EU trade deal. Back in Brussels, the boys continued bickering, as International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said the UK would not be ‘blackmailed.’ Across the table, Michel Barnier complained that so far the talks had made “no decisive progress.”

You can only hope that more progress will be made after the German elections in the middle of this month: unfortunately, we then have the UK political conference season and its attendant machinations and posturing. Meanwhile, the steady flow of businesses contacting Frankfurt estate agents will continue…

August – the month when Europe traditionally goes on holiday. That certainly seemed to be the case this year with some of the more interesting stories coming from countries we do not usually cover in the Bulletin.

Readers may remember the WannaCry ransomware attack in May, which hit the British NHS among companies and organisations worldwide. This was followed by a similar attack called Petya, which originated in the Ukraine. Subsequently modified, renamed NotPetya and targeted globally, the attack did millions of pounds worth of damage.

It was reported in August that the Danish shipping line Maersk, had suffered estimated losses of $300m thanks to the NotPetya virus – and that there had been a subsequent knock-on effect on the worldwide shipping industry.

August also brought the news that Kolos – a Norwegian/US company – plans to build the world’s largest data storage centre at Ballangen, inside the Arctic Circle. The reason? The cold air and abundant local hydro-power will keep costs down. Meanwhile, Estonia announced plans to issue the first government-backed cryptocurrency, with the launch of the Estcoin intend to compete with the soaring popularity of other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Cyber-attacks, huge investment inside the Arctic Circle and a country with its own cryptocurrency – three indications of the way the world is moving in 2017…

Back in the more traditional world, the euro hit an 18 month high against the dollar (at the time of writing it is worth $1.19) and French voters were expressing fierce opposition to new President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed reform of the labour laws. But as you will see below, M. Macron had more pressing problems…

Meanwhile, on Europe’s stock markets both the German and French indices were in holiday mood, doing more or less nothing in the month. The German index drifted down 1% to close at 12,056: the French CAC 40 index was even more laid back, falling just eight points to 5,086.

So did anything happen in the US that didn’t concern the President? Quite a lot…

The month got off to a positive start with the economy creating 209,000 jobs in July – ahead of expectations and helped by a wave of hiring in the hospitality industry. There was also good news for the US motor industry as Toyota and Mazda announced plans to team up and invest £1.6bn in a new car plant which will produce 300,000 vehicles a year and create 4,000 jobs. Electric car maker Tesla also said it was aiming to raise $1.5bn to fund its Model 3 car.

Staying with the ‘old economy’, Walmart announced a link-up with Google as Amazon bought Whole Foods and immediately embarked on an aggressive raft of price cuts – some prices were cut by as much as 43% – which sent shockwaves through grocery shares around the world.

Apple’s profits for its third quarter were up 12% to $8.7bn, with the company boosted by Apple Pay, the App Store and Apple Music. Not to be left out, Facebook made a move into dedicated video, which will see it competing with YouTube and, ultimately, TV networks.

The world’s central bankers gathered for their annual get-together at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, possibly to hear Janet Yellen speak as Chair of the Federal Reserve for the final time as the President is rumoured to want to replace her.

…But everything was overshadowed at the end of August as Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, causing catastrophic floods. The situation may yet worsen: at the time of writing the storm was heading towards Western Louisiana.

Like many of the world’s leading markets the Dow Jones index had a quiet month, finishing up just 57 points at 21,948.

Far East
China had to take some action in response to North Korea’s continued missile tests and in the middle of the month it announced it would stop importing coal, iron and seafood from the country, as it implemented UN sanctions. In theory this should have a dramatic effect on North Korea’s economy, which has grown significantly of late on the back of exports to China. We shall see…

China had other problems as the International Monetary Fund warned (again) about the country’s credit boom, saying that China’s credit growth was on “a dangerous trajectory.” Chinese consumers certainly seem to be spending with online retail giant Alibaba, which posted a 56% rise in quarterly revenue (in sharp contrast to the traditional US retailer Walmart, which saw a 23% fall in net income).

It is a difficult balancing act for the Chinese central bank: there were further worries as the rate of growth for China’s industrial companies slowed down. If that continues there will surely be pressure to allow further credit in order to maintain demand.

There were worries of a more personal kind in South Korea for Samsung’s billionaire heir-apparent Lee Jae-yong who was jailed for five years, convicted of bribery in a scandal which also saw the impeachment of South Korea’s former president.

Despite worries about credit growth, it was a good month for China’s Shanghai Composite share index, which was up 3% in August to 3,361. The Hong Kong market was also up, closing the month at 27,970 for a rise of 2%: it is now up 27% for the year as a whole. August was less good, though, for the South Korean market – down 2% at 2,363 – and for Japan, where the ‘dangerous trajectory’ they were worrying about was not Chinese credit but North Korean rockets. The Japanese index closed the month down 1% at 19,646.

Emerging Markets
It was a remarkably quiet month for the three major emerging markets on which we report. These days ‘quiet’ means good news for Brazil’s politicians as it was a month in which none of them were impeached or arrested. Maybe the Brazilian stock market took heart as it shot up 7% in August to end the month at 70,835. It was a good month for the Russian stock market as well – up by 5% to 2,022 – although it remains nearly 10% down for the year as a whole. Finally, a rather less successful month for the Indian market, which fell back 2% to end August at 31,730 – but still 19% up for the whole of 2017.

And finally…
It appears chocolate bars are definitely getting smaller these days, compared with a time when it took three people to even attempt to lift a Wagon Wheel…

That unfortunate trend reached its nadir in August with the news that Nestle are to introduce three new versions of the Walnut Whip… without a walnut. The new ‘Whips’ – sadly without the Walnut prefix – will be “available in Caramel, vanilla and mint” said the proverbial spokesman.

Equally new is French President Emmanuel Macron, who has certainly ‘whipped’ up a storm with the revelation that despite being in office for only three months he has managed to spend €26,000 on make-up – but the beautiful Monsieur Macron is not alone…

So far, the French leader has settled two bills for €16,000 and €10,000 from the public purse, but these pale into insignificance compared to his predecessor Francois Hollande’s €10,000 a month on a personal hairdresser. Bill Clinton was famous for keeping Air Force One waiting on the tarmac while he received a haircut from a Beverly Hills stylist known as Christophe – but what about British politicians? According to a Telegraph report from 2005, quoting a parliamentary written answer, Tony Blair spent £1,800 of taxpayers’ money on make-up and grooming. That’s a national disgrace: just £300 a year. It’s barely the cost of a Walnut-less Whip a day…

The upsides and downsides of downsizing

If your family has grown up and flown the nest and you’re moving closer to retiring, it’s likely that you’ve at least thought about downsizing your home. For some it can be for practical reasons, for others it might be a desire to be closer to their children if they’ve relocated, for others still it might simply be the desire for a change of scenery as they move into the next chapter of their life. But there are pros and cons to downsizing which need to be considered before you make what is always going to be a fairly major personal and financial decision.

The potential benefits of downsizing can be numerous. Living in a smaller home means you’re likely to save money on energy bills, house insurance, council tax and many other costs, allowing you to spend more of your pension income on enjoying life after work. It can also make looking after your home much easier so that you’re spending less time and effort on cleaning, maintenance and repairs as you get older.

In the current economic climate, many older people are choosing to downsize in order to free up funds. For some, this might be with the aim of boosting their own nest egg; for an increasing number of others, this is done in order to help their children get on the property ladder themselves. A loan or gift from the Bank of Mum and Dad has to be funded somehow, and if much of your capital is tied up in your home, downsizing often seems like a good way of obtaining the funds needed for a deposit on a first home.

However, just as the housing market is making it increasingly difficult for first-time buyers to secure a home, it’s also making it more and more challenging for those who want to downsize to be able to do so. Many who want somewhere smaller to make maintaining their property easier are finding that the cost of moving simply means staying put and paying for a cleaner or handyman is the more sensible option. For others, the shortage of houses means that finding a smaller property which suits their needs whilst providing the financial benefits is simply too tall an order in 2017.

So, whilst there are definite potential benefits of downsizing which can potentially help you and your family as you reach your retirement, it’s also worth remembering that those positives are not guaranteed. Moving house is both a major financial and emotional consideration at any point in your life, so make sure you have considered exactly what you will get out of downsizing before making the decision to do so.